Explaining to your family and friends what foster care is and why you want to open your home to a child can be both challenging and intimidating. You’re never sure how open they’ll be to your plan, what kind of support they’ll offer or what “horror story” they’ll tell you from someone they know who fostered.
If you thought explaining all of that to a group of adults was difficult, you will have an entirely new challenge waiting at home when you try telling your own children. Unless your kids have a friend who’s in foster care, you’ll be introducing them to an entirely new and complex world.
When talking to children about foster care do it in an age appropriate way. For younger kids, describe it using words that they’re familiar with so they can relate it to things they’ve experienced.
We have featured several questions on this topic from foster parents in our weekly Facebook segment “A Foster Parent Asks.” Here Tricia and Karen talk about how they explain foster care to their younger children:
It can still put scary thoughts into your child’s head even when you describe foster care in child friendly terms. Remind your children that they aren’t in foster care and that they will always live with you. Still, they may not like the idea of having to share attention with a new kid in the house. You might have to explain that you don’t love them any less simply because you’re also paying attention to your foster child. Explain that you just want to make them feel at home and that your kids can help you with this by being friendly as well. Rebecca went through a similar situation with her son and with a little time he adjusted to their new life.
With older children you can be more upfront when explaining how the foster care system works. You can use this moment as a learning experience for your older children by talking to them about why you want to foster and the need for others to become foster parents. As Linda found out, being part of a foster family can have a big impact on who your children grow up to be.
However, the learning isn’t limited to just your older children. While talking to your younger kids about foster care, you can instill and reinforce the importance of compassion at an early age. The lesson may not be as intellectually deep, but it’s just as valuable.
Trying to explain foster care to your children isn’t easy, but if you can find a way to relate it to their own experiences you can set them at ease and teach them compassion. In the end, we think Elizabeth summed up how to talk to your children about foster care the best:
There are other ways to broach this topic with your kids. There are many books written for both biological and foster kids that deal with this issue, such as our own eBook available on Amazon “What’s This Whole Family Thing All About?” Having your kids read it to your foster child can be a great learning and bonding experience for both of them.
Once you’re licensed in New Jersey, you can come to our Connecting Families Meetings to talk with other resource parents about how they handled this delicate situation. You can find a calendar of upcoming meetings here.
Remember you can always reach out to our FAFS Family Advocates for more resources and support.